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Sunday, 11 December 2011

A Plague On Prince Prospero

A Plague On Prince Prospero!

   The episode of Dance of the Dead has the theme of death running through it like a seam of gold in a rock face. There was the death of the man washed up on the beach, drowned, suffocated or somewhere in between. The body of the dead man who will be amended slightly so that it's Number 6 who has died in an accident at sea, so to the rest of the world he'll be dead! Then there was the termination order had been ordered against Roland Walter Dutton, a visit to the mortuary is made by Number 6 who  himself is been sentenced to death by the court in the name of the people, the sentence to be carried out by the people in the name of justice. And if the scene where everyone is dancing around at the end of the episode had not been cut, the scene where everyone at the Ball dies except for Number 6, well that does in itself put me in mind of the ending of Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque Of The Red Death.
    It has been suggested that Kafka's The Trial played an influence on the Prisoner, in the way he was abducted to the village without knowing why, who was running the village, which side it was on. In the same way Joseph K in The Trial didn't know what he was being accused of, or arrested for, this in the way that Number Six was unaware of his crime during his trial of Dance of the Dead and of course there was the trial of Fall Out.
   Another possible influence might have been Patrick McGoohan's one time favourite film The Prisoner of Zenda starring Stewart Granger, which may have played its part in influencing the episode of The Schizoid Man, both film and episode a throw back who looked like the Prince in the one case and a look-a-like interloper in the other. One refrains from suggesting a "clone" of Number 6 as that would clearly have been impossible, and if it was plastic surgery, well it was very expertly done, because the scars are hardly noticeable.

   So where might you think Prince Prospero and Poe's Masque Of The Red Death comes in? Well if you know the story you won't need me to tell you, but there is a clear comparison or parallel between the Masque Of The Red Death and Dance of the Dead. In the episode we have a carnival and dance, a forthcoming festival which is one of their little traditions. A fancy dress party and a Ball in the evening, and this year a cabaret is promised, that turns out to be the trial of Number 6.
    On the evening of the Ball everyone there was in fancy dress costume, from Peter Pan to Little Bo-peep, Napoleon Bonaparte, Elizabeth the 1st. To American cowboy and Indian, a Spanish dancer, a principle boy fresh from pantomime! A Chinese mandarin, Arabian sheik and women in medieval dress and some wearing masks. There is a certain18th century feel to the Ball, as this is the style of costume the members of the orchestra are wearing, and indeed guests at the ball are encouraged to dance, well everyone but Number Six!
    After the trail and sentence, Number 6 is chased through the corridors of the Town Hall by the citizens who are screaming, baying for his blood. Or you could say that Number 6 was leading the citizens a merry dance through the corridors of the Town Hall, having eventually given them all the slip. Then the last scene of all, the scene which was cut where originally all the guests at the Ball are dancing around in a circle after which everyone dies, well except Number 6. Such are the revellers at Prince Prospero's masque ball. "As one by one dropped the revellers in the blood bedewed hall of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall." Well save for the figure of the Red Death, who I suppose is comparable to that of the figure of Number 6, had the original ending of the Dance of the Dead remained uncut.

   So what of The Masque Of The Red Death and what has it to do with Dance of the Dead apart from what we have just read? Well the Red Death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal - the redness and horror of the blood.
   But Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among his knights and dames of his court, whom he retired with in deep seclusion of one of his castled abbeys. So Prospero and his courtiers were kept in secluded isolation as might be said of Number 2 and her guests at the evening Ball in the Town hall, not to mention anything of the secluded isolation of the village itself. But lets not get carried away and start reading something into something else, which it appears to be so very easy to do, when all I am doing is to make a comparison between the two.
    The Abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions that the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself, a bit like the village in some respects. But in the meantime for Prince Prospero and his courtiers it was folly to grieve or think. He had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatory, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the Red Death.
   It was around the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged furiously abroad, that Prince Prospero entertained his one thousand friends at a masquerade ball of the most unusual magnificence. It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. There were 7 rooms or apartments in all, all differently decorated, and the next more exotic and flamboyant than its predecessor. Seven rooms you might say, as comparable to the number of rooms which Number 6 tried to enter along that corridor of the Town Hall, but finding only one which would open to him. Or perhaps comparable to the number of those original 7 episodes which McGoohan originally proposed for the Prisoner series. Well we are comparing the one with the other, so I think we can get away with this, yes I think we can, just. Seven apartments, the musicians of the orchestra, the Walters and the whole gay company of the masquerades, are also comparable. But not quite so the arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. The delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. Of the beautiful and wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible. Well there was beauty in Dance of the Dead, bizarre certainly, and something terrible that happened to Roland Walter Dutton. And yes, perhaps even wanton, from a malicious point of view, and maybe even sexual wanton from the point of Number 6's personal maid's point of view, seeing the flirty side of her character.
    To and fro in the seven apartments there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. Number 6 liked likes his dream, but Number 2 said that if he insists on living his dream, he may be taken for mad. the same could be said of Prince Prospero, as the wild masquerade continues whilst outside thousands are dying from the Red Death.
   But as the masquerade went on Prince Prospero became aware of the presence of a masked figure which arrested the attention of no single individual before. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. And the mask concealing the visage which was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse. This then was the image of the Red Death.
    Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image, he was convulsed in the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste, but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage. "Who dares" he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him "Who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him - that we may know whom we have to hang, at sunrise, from the battlements." His words ringing throughout the seven apartments. At first, as he spoke there was a slight rushing of people towards this interloper, but no one put forth a hand to seize him.
    There was no chasing of the intruder by any member of the masquerade, save that of Prospero himself as the figure of the Red Death who passed through the green, purple, orange, violet, white, blue and black apartments. Prince Prospero fell prostrate from the wound made by a dagger as he confronted his pursuer.  And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. Such could the ending of the Dance of the Dead have been, and probably should have been, in darker times.

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